Monday Mail: Porter and Westfall

I received a copy of Empire in the New Testament, edited by Stanley Porter and Cynthia Westfall, in the mail today for review. I’m excited about this for a number of reasons, among them being that I’m always challenged by Porter’s projects. But after perusing the table of contents, I’m even more ready to dive in to this volume.

The book is organized in a biblical-theological fashion. Each chapter discusses the theme of empire in a particular book or corpus in the New Testament, and these chapters are arranged in canonical order (with the exception of Luke and Acts being combined). There are also two preliminary chapters on empire in the OT, specifically in the life of David and in Isaiah, as well as two concluding ones on Jewish and early church interpretation, which I find very intriguing. This tells me that in a book titled Empire in the New Testament, the editors think it important to include OT and history of interpretation material. In my personal opinion, NT studies so often falters by not paying enough attention to the OT background of NT texts and themes, and so I am glad to see Porter and Westfall at least make the effort to include this vital aspect in their volume. (History of interpretation is pretty important, too.)

We’ll see how I like the rest of the book after I make it past the ToC. 🙂

Where in the NT are Joseph and Joshua?

Image from Wikipedia

A few weeks ago at Near Emmaus, Brian LePort asked an intriguing question: Why didn’t the Apostle Paul cite the Book of Jonah? The question fueled some conversation but I’m not sure there was ever a definitive answer. Although I didn’t weigh in on the discussion, I’ve been turning the question over in my mind for the last two or three weeks, not so much in relation to why Paul doesn’t cite Jonah but more broadly on why the NT doesn’t use a number of books as sources or figures as types. Jonah is at least cited and used in the Gospels, if not by Paul. Other rich OT imagery isn’t even mentioned by the NT.

For instance, Joseph and Joshua, two figures replete with Second Adam and New Moses imagery, are never cited, mentioned, or alluded to in the NT as types of Christ. They are referenced in Heb 11:21-22 and 4:8 respectively, but as moral examples and not as figures who point to or tell us anything about Christ (thanks to David Stark for clarifying my language here). These men give, at least in my opinion, a strong typological picture of Christ. Of course, some scholars would say that to recognize anything as a type in the OT that is not recognized as such in the NT is illegitimate. But, as G. P. Hupenberger points out in his essay “Introductory Notes in Typology” in G.K. Beale’s The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?,

“Perhaps as a safeguard against interpretive excess, some scholars have suggested that ‘types’ should be limited to those examples which are explicitly identified as such within the New Testament. … While attractive for its restraint, this approach would fail to recognize several…examples for which there is impressive literary evidence of deliberate parallelism” (339).

The literary parallels between Adam and Joseph are particularly striking. Here are several:

  • He is dependent upon God for wisdom and power (Gen 41:16)
  • He discerns between good and evil (41:19)

    1. The word for “thin” is the same word used for “evil” in Hebrew
    2. V. 22 – “good” corn
    3. These should remind us of Gen. 2 and 3 and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
    4. Joseph can discern between them, unlike Adam
  • He is full of the Spirit of God (41:38)
  • He has dominion and authority over the land under the direction of the Pharaoh (41:40, 44)
  • He is given the land (41:41, 43)
  • He is clothed in the image of the Pharaoh (41:42)
  • He is given a bride by the Pharaoh (41:45)
  • He is fruitful and multiplies (41: 50)
  • Ephraim means “root of fruitfulness
  • He is able to provide for those in need (41:53-56)
  • The nations come to Joseph (41:57)

There are also of course the parallels between Joseph’s relationship to his brothers in Gen 37 and Christ’s relationship with Israel in the Gospels, but these are not directly related to Joseph as a New Adam.

We could say the same thing about Joshua and his connection to Moses. And since the New Adam and New Moses images are used in the NT (or at least in parts of it) to explain who Christ is and what he has done, the question can be asked as to why Joshua and Joseph are never used in those explanations. I wonder particularly about Matthew’s use of the New Moses theme and Paul’s contrast of Adam and Christ in Romans 1-8.

For me, though, there is a rather simple explanation to this question. Other than the easy answer of the Spirit’s inspiration of the biblical authors (and I’m not saying we should ignore that answer, just that we need to add to it), we have the functional answer of the fact that the NT authors were writing occasional books and letters to a specific group of individuals within a certain time frame. I propose that they certainly could have included this material in their books, and that it would have fit nicely in certain places. But they didn’t, and for the above two reasons – the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire them to do so and their own theological reflection was constrained by the practical factors of time, occasion, and purpose.

For those of us who want to reflect on the OT in the 21st century, the point, then, is that the NT should not be considered by us as the end of Christian reflection on it. It is of course the final apostolic and Spirit-inspired reflection (i.e. Scriptural) reflection on it, but in my mind the NT authors never intended for their books and letters to be the end of Christian engagement with the OT. What they have given us, beyond the inspired interpretation of the events of Jesus and the early church and their relation to the OT, is a model for Christian theological reflection on the Hebrew Bible. This is what the Church Fathers and Medieval theologians set about to do – to continue the Christian reading of the OT that had been modeled for them by the NT authors – and is what we can and should be about doing in our reading of the OT today.

One final comment: I’m not writing this to critique Brian’s question – his was slightly different than mine. I was using his post more as a starting point than as a focal point.

(NOTE: I owe the Adam/Joseph parallels to my PhD mentor, Dr. David Hogg. He may have found them elsewhere, but the ones I noted are from a course with him.)